We love our dogs and we think they love us. And they do! But the kind of affection we show to other people is, often, exactly the actions even the best dogs can barely tolerate. Of course, dogs can’t tell us what they like – or don’t like. But animal behaviorists who study dog reactions have come up with a surprising number of things we do, which dogs would rather we did not. Here are a two things our favorite canines wish we would stop doing!
Hugging your dog
Most dogs hate hugs. Watch a dog the next time someone (especially a stranger) puts his or her arms around the dog. See how the head turns away, or he avoids eye contact? Is the dog’s mouth closed or the ears back against her head? Some people reject the notion that dogs dislike hugs, pointing out instances where the dog is licking his lips while being hugged. They think this is like kissing behavior. But a dog that’s licking its lips reflects its ancestral wolf behavior. This “licking lips” is not showing love (or kissing!), but submissive or nervous behavior. Leaning away, looking away, ears going back, and so on are all signs that a dog is uncomfortable. Some dogs will even try to aggressively move out of the “embrace.”
Why do we do this? Why do we insist on hugging our dogs? Well, we’re primates and when we hug someone else, it expresses our happiness and love to another. In other words, when humans wrap their arms around someone else, it usually has a happy, positive meaning.
Dogs don’t have arms and they didn’t evolve showing their emotions in this way. In fact, a dog who places his foreleg or paw on the back of another dog, is showing dominance. Fortunately, dogs are so intimately wired to be with humans that most of our canine friends accept our “dominance” with good grace.
But . . . dogs bite when they feel threatened or fearful. So, that’s why we are often perplexed when a loving child grabs a dog for a hug and the dog turns on the little person. Even if the dog accepts the hugs (which they usually do if it’s someone they know), it is a rare canine that actually likes it.
Petting a dog on the top of his/her head
How would you feel if someone came up to you and started smacking you on the head? Loved, adored? Probably not. Having someone bop us on the head, even patting it, is not something most of us enjoy. It’s annoying at best and painful at worst.
And imagine if a complete stranger did that? Watching videos to replay this action between humans, observers noted immediately that as the hands of strangers reach toward the face or the top of the head, the recipient automatically backs away, or pulls back, or leans away. In all cases, it was obvious from the recipient’s facial expression that they felt uncomfortable. After all, a hand reaching out is invading the others’ personal space. Dogs have the identical reaction. Even the loving family dog may lean away slightly when you reach for her face to pet her. It’s a personal space issue for dogs just as much as it is for us.
So, what’s the best place to pet a dog? If you’re introducing your dog to a stranger, and this is especially true if the stranger is a child, always have the new person gently pet a dog’s back or rear. Don’t pat his head or, in fact, go anywhere near the dog’s face.
Finally, if you really want to let your wonderful dogs know how much you appreciate them, give them a rub on their rear end right by the tail. Dog’s love this!
Good News on Dog Research: Probably since dogs first became our faithful companions, we’ve given them little notice because . . . well, because they have always been with us. Even archeologists, carefully sifting remains almost always tossed aside dog bones as irrelevant. But that’s changing now and in the 21st Century, scientists are studying dogs with an intensity never seen before. As more research comes to the attention of the general public, we’ll be adding to this list not only to help people understand what dogs don’t like, but also to help us learn what they do! So, as Dr. B follows the research, we will be reporting results like this to our readers on this blog.